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Nicholas Wilder Gallery records, 1944-1984, (bulk 1968-1979)

Nicholas Wilder Gallery records, 1944-1984, (bulk 1968-1979)

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

Collection Information

Size: 2.4 linear feet

Summary: Scattered documentation of the contemporary art gallery's fourteen years of operation include artists' inventory cards, photographic transparencies, letters and correspondence, invitations, notes, business and financial documents, and printed materials.

The majority of records date from the period after the gallery moved to La Cienega Boulevard to Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Very few records pertaining to specific exhibitions or openings are included in this collection. However, there is one exhibition catalog and scattered gallery invitations which were used as scrap paper. Other materials include business records that contain financial materials and notes. Printed Materials contain popular newspapers and magazines that reflect Wilder's interests, invitations to other galleries, auction catalogs, and business cards. Correspondence includes scattered gallery correspondence, Wilder's personal correspondence and documents, and holiday cards.

The bulk of the collection consists of artist files which include inventory cards and transparencies of works of art. Information on the inventory cards and transparencies may specify: date of creation, date of accession, potential collectors, purchase records, and titles. Notable artists include: Joe Goode, Tom Holland, Robert Graham, Billy Al Bengston, Cy Twombly, Ken Price, Ed Moses, Ron Davis, John McCracken, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Agnes Martin, Edward Avedisian, John Altoon, Richard Yokomi, Sam Francis, Bruce Nauman, Hans Hofmann, and David Hockney. The majority of inventory cards reflect business at the gallery in the mid-late 1970s.

Financial records originating from the James Corcoran Gallery are included in this collection. The relationship between the two establishments is unclear although it seems that the James Corcoran Gallery moved into the space previously occupied by the Nicholas Wilder Gallery.

Biographical/Historical Note

Art gallery; Los Angeles, Calif. Est. 1965; closed 1979. Nicholas Wilder was considered Los Angeles' leading contemporary art dealer during the 1960s and 1970s. He opened the gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in 1965 during the street's heyday as a "happening place." He discovered emerging young artists and made them known not only in Los Angeles but in New York City as well. In 1970, he moved his gallery from La Cienega to Santa Monica Boulevard and by 1979, his best known artists had moved next door to the James Corcoran Gallery, prompting Wilder to leave Los Angeles for New York City, where he worked not as a dealer but as an artist, specializing in abstract assemblages. Wilder died in July 1989.


Donated 1998 by Matthew Curtis Klebaum, a friend of Wilder's and a former employee of the James Corcoran Gallery.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Nicholas Wilder Gallery Records,
1944-1984, bulk 1968-1979,
in the Archives of American Art
Historical Note
In April 1965, Nicholas Wilder (1937-1989) founded his contemporary art gallery at 814 North La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. His interest in art started at Amherst College where he worked for the art department as a slide technician. While in graduate school at Stanford University, he worked at the Lanyon Gallery in Palo Alto, California. An initial offer of financial backing to open a gallery inspired a move to Los Angeles. Although that offer fell through, Wilder remained determined. In late 1964, Wilder sold shares of his future gallery to friends in order to secure funds. He bought the shares back shortly after opening.
The Nicholas Wilder Gallery's first show featured Edward Avedisian. The gallery expanded and featured artists from New York and California, including: Joe Goode, John McCracken, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Cy Twombly, Ed Moses, Ken Price, Agnes Martin, John Altoon, Sam Francis, Billy Al Bengston, and Hans Hofmann. The gallery helped start the careers of American artists such as Robert Graham, Tom Holland, Ron Davis, and Bruce Nauman. In 1970, the gallery moved to 8225 ½ Santa Monica Boulevard. Through its fourteen years of operation, the gallery held a new show every month. Wilder's openings represented a large source of pride and he ensured that every opening reception included a stocked bar for his clients.
Initially, the gallery succeeded through Wilder's talents and passion for art. At its peak, the Nicholas Wilder Gallery sold two million dollars worth of art per year. However, in the mid-1970s a change in attitude within the art world affected sales. According to Wilder, many artists no longer painted for expression but as a viable business venture. Furthermore, he claimed that buyers would not risk collecting works from a younger or less well-known artist. In addition to these factors, Wilder attributed the decline of his gallery to his extravagance and lack of business sensibilities. Eventually, the gallery faced financial problems and Wilder recognized the need to leave the business.
The Nicholas Wilder Gallery closed on December 31, 1979. Wilder informed his employees that he would close a year in advance and ensured that all of his artists found a new gallery for representation. He moved to New York after leaving his gallery and became an artist. Nicholas Wilder passed away in 1989 from AIDS-related causes.
The collection is arranged into four series:
Series 1: Business Records, 1968-1978, 1980-1984, circa 1970s (Box 1; 5 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1974-1981, circa 1970s (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 3: Printed Material, 1976-1980, circa 1970s (Box 1; 9 folders)
Series 4: Artist Files, 1944-1984, circa 1960s-1970s (Box 1-3; 2 linear feet)
Donated 1998 by Matthew Curtis Klebaum, a friend of Wilder's and a former employee of the James Corcoran Gallery.
Processing Information
The records were processed by Jayna M. Hanson in 2008 with funding provided by the Getty Foundation.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Nicholas Wilder Gallery records, 1944-1984, (bulk 1968-1979). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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